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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Strawberries Signal the Start of Summer

Contributed by Valerie Battle Kienzle

It's the end of spring, and in the part of the U.S. where I live, fresh strawberries will soon be ripe for picking. Strawberries are grown worldwide, both indoors and outdoors, in pots and in the ground. In some parts of the U.S., strawberry festivals are held to celebrate the harvesting of the first fruit to ripen each year.

Strawberries have been cultivated and enjoyed for centuries. There are approximately 20 varieties of strawberries, the most common being the Garden Strawberry. Strawberries are the only fruit with seeds on the outside. Fresh, frozen, preserved or prepared in food and beverages, strawberries' sweet/tart properties and vibrant color make them a popular food choice with young and old alike.

Strawberry plants are sturdy and produce small white, yellow-centered flowers which develop into the tasty fruit we enjoy so many ways. Strawberries ripen quickly and should be harvested when fully red or when only a quarter of the fruit's surface is still white or light pink. The fruit itself is fragile and is harvested and packaged by hand -- usually in the fields where grown.

Approximately one fourth of the world's strawberries are grown in the United States. That translates to a $1 billion industry. Strawberry breads, strawberry ice cream, strawberry shortcake, strawberry preserves, strawberry lemonade, strawberry milkshakes, strawberry salads, and dried strawberries. This versatile fruit is low in calories (approximately 45 calories per cup) and is loaded with vitamin C.

Strawberry plants are perennials, but generate fruit for only a few years. New plants need to be planted in a strawberry patch every year or two to replace old plants that no longer produce. The plants like full sun and well-drained soil.

I planted a small strawberry patch when my children were young. We never gathered a huge berry harvest (a resourceful rabbit enjoyed munching them as much as we did), but the kids had fun checking for ripe berries each morning. One summer we made strawberry preserves. The recipe was easy (and kid-friendly) and the results tasted wonderful on bread.

I guess you could say strawberries played an important role in my life. Strawberry ice cream was responsible for bringing my parents together in the mid-20th century. They were college students and rode a commuter bus to classes during the summer. The bus wasn't air conditioned, and the driver stopped at a market each day so riders could get something cool to eat or drink. One day Mom and Dad shared a seat. Dad entered the market when the bus stopped and returned with two strawberry ice cream cones. Mom accepted the ice cream cone offered to her, they began talking, and the rest is history.

My favorite way to serve strawberries is to cap and slice them, sprinkle with a bit of sugar to draw out the juice, and top with a dollop of whipped cream. Yum!

I've used strawberries in dozens of recipes through the years, but the dessert that always gets compliments and requests for second helpings is the easiest to assemble. Here's the recipe:

Easy Strawberry Dessert

1 angel food cake
1 quart ripe strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 container Cool Whip

Tear the angel food cake into small chunks. Place in a large, shallow bowl or plastic container. Cap and slice the strawberries into another bowl. Sprinkle the sugar over the berries. Gently toss the berries until the sugar dissolves and juice begins to form. Spread the berry mixture over the cake pieces. Spread Cool Whip over the berries. Cover and chill for several hours before serving.

Enjoy, and welcome the start of the summer produce season!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Handkerchiefs Were A Handy Accessory

Contributed by Valerie Battle Kienzle

I never met Mrs. Burton. Her small brown-paper package arrived in my mailbox a few weeks before our wedding. I cautiously opened the package to find a beautiful lace-edged handkerchief and a note.

"I saw your engagement announcement in the newspaper. Enclosed is a handkerchief for you to use on your wedding day. Weddings are a time for happy tears and sad tears. Now you'll be prepared," the note said.

I examined the delicate white linen square -- six lace borders, each featuring a different design and hundreds of tiny hand-sown stitches. Three small white flowers were embroidered near one corner.

I called Mom. "Do you know this woman?" I asked.

Mom laughed. Yes, she was familiar with Mrs. Burton, but she'd never met her. "She's been volunteering and doing things for others for years," she said. "She fed soldiers at the train station during World War I and during World War II ran the Red Cross canteen at the airport. She's volunteered at the Veterans Hospital, and through the years she's knit hundreds of pairs of socks for the U.S. soldiers serving overseas. You've just received a piece of her handiwork. I'm sure it's beautiful!"

I was twenty-something, a recent college grad, and at the time disliked most things old and traditional. But something about that beautiful piece of hand work and an older woman's gesture of kindness to a stranger touched me. At that moment I decided I would indeed carry Mrs. Burton's handkerchief with my wedding bouquet.

I recently found the handkerchief wrapped in tissue paper at the bottom of a dresser drawer. I'd forgotten about it. That got me thinking about handkerchiefs. In this throw-away age of disposable everything, cloth handkerchiefs are a bit of a novelty. Think about it. When did you last see people dabbing at their noses or wiping their eyes with handkerchiefs? It just doesn't happen! But that wasn't always true.

For generations, handkerchiefs were an important part of the daily attire of both women and men. When I was a child, most folks I knew had two stacks of cloth handkerchiefs stored in a dresser drawer. For men, white linen squares with hand-rolled edges and monograms were used when a dress shirt was worn. Paid or patterned cotton handkerchiefs were carried for informal occasions.

The women I knew carried lace-edged or finely embroidered handkerchiefs for dressy occasions and small cotton squares with whimsical patterns or designs for everyday. Each day they tucked a fresh hanky in the cuffs of their dress sleeves or under their belts. Older women like my grandmas tucked them beneath the shoulder straps of their undergarments.

When I was young, I often received handkerchiefs along with birthday cards. These small cotton examples were colorfully printed with nursery-rhyme characters and letters of the alphabet. And in the days before every school classroom had multiple boxes of Kleenex, sometimes it was nice to find a hanky stuffed in a pocket.

Dad always carried several handkerchiefs, and he found countless ways to use them that didn't include wiping his nose. He said they were great for cleaning windshields, getting dirty spots off cars, or shining boat chrome. He used them to unscrew jar lids, to hold special coins, and to keep his hands clean when he changed typewriter ribbons. Needless to say, he went through lots of handkerchiefs every year! Some were simply beyond laundering.

When I fell through a glass door and cut my wrist, Dad was instantly beside me with several handkerchiefs, using them to slow the bleeding until he could get me to the emergency room. I even saw him pull a large handkerchief around his head once on a cold day when he forgot a hat.

People have been using handkerchiefs made of flax, silk, cotton and linen, and in a variety of shapes, for centuries. They became fashionable in Europe in the 19th century and were soon popular in America. They were functional and fashionable, but also very labor-intensive.

Soiled handkerchiefs often had to be soaked or boiled to disinfect them and to remove stains. In the days before wash-and-wear fabrics, they also needed to be starched and ironed. I was one of probably countless kids who learned to use an iron while tackling a stack of extremely wrinkled hankies.

Handkerchiefs, like rotary telephones and televisions with rabbit-ear antennas, are becoming a relic of the past. Reasonably priced vintage handkerchiefs can still be found at tag sales and resale shops.

Today, I love all things old and traditional, including cloth handkerchiefs. What a pleasant surprise to rediscover Mrs. Burton's wedding handkerchief. But I'm also glad for the convenience of tissues. Who wants to bother with soaking and washing a stack of soiled cloth squares when tissues are so readily available? Not me!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Look at Hand Fans

Contributed by Valerie Battle Kienzle

The school year is winding down for most folks. Ahead are the lazy, steamy days of summer and figuring out ways to stay cool.

As a child, I spent many summer days with one or the other of my grandmothers. If my visit included a weekend, I knew to pack a dress for Sunday worship services.

Both grandmothers lived in small southern towns with white frame churches and no air conditioning. "Cooling off" during worship meant trying to catch a breeze from one of the sanctuary's open windows or using one of the cardboard hand fans found on each pew. The fans advertised the local fineral home.

I came across an old hand fan recently. It advertised a now-defunct daily newspaper from my hometown. I started thinking about hand fans. I own several that are 100+ years old and belonged to relatives. There was a time in U.S. history when most women carried a hand fan in their pockets or purses. A hand fan could provide a bit of cooling breeze and help keep insects away.

These days, hand fans are a bit of an oddity. You just don't see a lot of people in the U.S. pulling fans from their pockets or purses when the temperature soars, but that wasn't always true. Hand fans have a centuries-old history that covers many countries and cultures.

Fans are mentioned in ancient Greek and Roman literature. Fans are shown in art and drawings from Egypt, Persia, Babylon and China as well as Greece and Rome. Some of the artistic representations date back to 2600 B.C. It is believed that fans were used in some churches during the Middle Ages to brush away insects and to "refresh" the worshipers who sat through lengthy services. Fans were used in Spain in the 14th Century, and Christopher Columbus is said to have given a feather fan to a queen after his first trip to America.

Throughout history, hand fans were unique, hand-made works of art. The guard sticks and ribs were made of carved wood or ivory and were covered with silk, hand-painted paper, lace or other delicate materials. Some were decorated on both sides.
During the 1800s until the early 1900s, at a time in U.S. history when women had few opporunities to verbally express themselves in public, particularly to the opposite sex, hand fans became a popular silent method of communication. A "language" of fans evolved so that refined, demure women could say volumes without uttering a word. To express themselves, they simply placed or moved their fans. For example:

* Touching the fan to the right cheek meant "yes."
* Touching the fan to the left cheek meant "no."

* Moving the fan with the right hand meant "I love another."
* Holding the fan in front of the face with the right hand meant "follow me."

* Sliding the fan across the forehead meant "you have changed."
* Touching the fan to the left ear meant "leave me alone."

* Touching the edges of the fan with the fingers meant "I want to talk to you."

* Opening and closing the fan meant "you are cruel."

* Holding the fan closed meant "do you love me?"

* Sliding the fan on the cheek meant "I want you."

* Sliding it across the eyes meant "please go away."

* Leaving the fan hanging from the hand meant "we will continue being friends."

And finally,

* Throwing the fan meant "I hate you."

By today's standards, fan communication seems innocent and archaic. Our world is filled with reality shows featuring screaming, profanity-spewing participants; endless relationship drama; and a general attitude of rudeness.

It's hard to image, but did people really live and communicate this way? Was there indeed an era of "polite society?" If so, what happened? Why the change? Will societal norms someday change again? It's something to think about....